Friday, December 23, 2011

YOUNG ADULT and Young Adult

So, my plan for this post is to write about the film Young Adult, which I saw in today, and then to discuss young adult fiction that I've been reading that has been self-published for Amazon Kindle. Hence the title. I can't use italics in the title, so I had to capitalize. I just wanted to lay the plan out because I'm usually pretty literary fiction/academia/program focused around here, and there will be none of that in this post. I not only love reading quality young adult literature, but I also care a lot about the genre and its development. 

Young Adult is by Diablo Cody, the writer of Juno and Jennifer's Body, both films that I enjoy (I actually find myself defending Jennifer's Body a lot, I feel like it is an under-appreciated movie). It is directed by Jason Reitman, who directed Thank You for Smoking, Juno, and Up in the Air. I have to admit, I had pretty high expectations for this movie, and they weren't really met. I'm a sucker for a good preview, and this one really got me. I also thought (and still think) that the casting of the three main roles, Mavis (Charlize Theron), Matt (Patton Oswalt), and Buddy (Patrick Wilson). The basic plot rundown is as follows: Mavis Gary writes young adult novels for a prolific series that bears comparisons to both Sweet Valley High and Gossip Girl, though perhaps more of the former. She is actually a glorified ghost writer, as the creator of the series gets the cover credit, and she is working on the final book of the series. She receives the birth announcement of her former high school boyfriend Buddy Slade's first child, and it bothers her to the point that she decides to go back to her hometown to try to win him back. Once there, she (re)meets a former high school classmate that she ignored (Patton Oswalt) and enacts her plan to seduce Buddy away from his wife and child. 

I have to say first that the movie looked exactly right. Charlize Theron hit the perfect combination of beautiful former-prom-queen and hot-mess, slightly-aging alcoholic. The setting, suburban Minnesota, was also just right, especially the KenTacoHut (KFC/Taco Bell/Pizza Hut).

One of the things that probably hurt the film the most was the expectation that I had going into it based on Juno, Reitman and Cody's previous collaboration. I don't think that I was alone in expecting the same sort of atmosphere, the same snappy, slang-full dialogue. In fact, the film seemed incredibly sparse for something by Cody, with very little dialogue in comparison to her other works. Also missing was the distinctive soundtrack of her other well-known works (including her television series The United States of Tara, which was very unfortunately cancelled this year after three seasons). Most of the music in the film is what is actually playing in the narrative-- otherwise we are left in the buzzing quiet, which, while jarring, did in some way contribute to the awkwardness that pervades the story.

Charlize Theron's character seemed to be a similar type of protagonist as Juno MacGuff: quippy, sarcastic, more than a little cynical, but still the kind of person that you want to be around, if just for the air of "coolness" they exude. Mavis Gary, though, just didn't manage to endear herself to me the way that Juno did. There were moments of sincerity and vulnerability for her character that I believe were some of the film's best, but I just wasn't convinced. The film reminded me of Bad Teacher, which features a similar protagonist, played by Cameron Diaz. The problem that I have with both of these films is that the protagonists, who are, for lack of a better term, complete bitches, seem to be vindicated at the end of the stories. There is the implication that some sort of personal growth might have taken place, but their old behaviors are also defended. It didn't necessarily stop me from enjoying either movie, but it gave me pause. 

On a smaller note, I think that the secondary tension of Mavis's creation of the final book in the young adult series was underdeveloped, and the potential that it had to provide a strong parallel to the central narrative was wasted. The viewer gets to hear a few harried voice mails from Mavis's agent at the beginning of the film, but the pressure of the deadline gets forgotten pretty quickly. Definitely a missed opportunity to create a more emotionally complex narrative. Mavis's connection to her writing and her career after the end of the series is not really addressed. 

I'm still not sure how I feel about Young Adult overall. Just writing this review has had me teetering back and forth between positive and negative views on a number of points. For now I'll have to go with I don't regret seeing it, but I feel like it's weaker than the other major efforts of both Reitman and Cody.

Well, that was longer than I expected. I also want to write briefly about Kindle self-publishing and young adult novels. I wasn't really aware of the crazy phenomenon that is self-publishing via Amazon until earlier this year, when I stumbled upon a story about Amanda Hocking, the poster child for the trend, a young adult author whose self-published books have been wildly successful and who has since been picked up by a major publishing house. I just downloaded one of Hocking's books today (and for free, which is one of the big perks of Kindle), so I can not yet make any judgments about her writing. I'll post my thoughts on Hollowland, the book I downloaded, when I finish it. But I have read through a lot of Hocking's blog as well as interviews with her throughout her rise to "fame," and I have to say that I like her and the image she is presenting. She seems to stress commitment to and love of writing over all other things, and it is clear that she really did put in the work, both in creating her many novels and in marketing them. And not to get too incendiary, but she seems a lot less crazy than Stephenie Meyer. 

I recently realized that I don't actually need a Kindle to read Kindle e-books, I can download them to both my computer and my Ipod Touch. I'm completely broke, as usual, so I've been spending my time since I downloaded the Kindle app looking for free books to download. I've also been doing this because I'm really interested in what kind of material is being put out there by self-published authors. Self-publishing (at least in this specific outlet) is losing its stigma, and it is encouraging, for me at least, to see people putting the work in to write, format, and promote their work, as well as support other writers. A lot of these self-published Kindle authors sell their books for  $.99 or $2.99 (or offer them for free), as Hocking did before she became an internet sensation (though some of her books are still available for those prices, the ones that have been picked up by her current publishing house are now selling for $8.99). 

I was, of course, skeptical about the quality of the self-published literature I would find on Amazon, and it has taken a lot of sifting through listings and reading the chapter samples to find things that interest me enough to give them a try. I've only started a few of the books, but I have been impressed by one in particular. I am 20% through Eternal Eden by Nicole Williams, and it's pretty much blown away my expectations of what I would get in a free, self-published Kindle book. Especially a young adult paranormal romance, which is a shaky genre for quality to begin with. That is not to say that the book is some epic, classic work of literature, but it's solid, and it hits all the right notes for its genre (so far, anyway). It's conventional, but that's common with YA and not really a problem for me if it's done well. There is the protagonist with a dark past and her emotional shields way up, the love interest with a dark past and some kind of mysterious paranormal connection (I actually don't know what it is yet), and even the romantic rival. I think what I have been most impressed by so far has been the quality of the writing, the pace of the narrative, and the editing. Williams is certainly guilty of falling into the typical patterns of YA description every once in a while (one character is described as having "turquoise eyes," and the protagonist, Bryn, definitely gets a little swoon-y about her instant love connection with William), but the writing is solid and, most importantly, not distracting or confusing. Also, I haven't caught any typos or other errors yet, which is incredibly impressive and uncommon for a self-published work. I saw on the Amazon page that Williams updated the version at some point to include some edits, which I applaud her for. Of course, the book could take a nose dive at any time, and I'll make sure to update once I've finished it. But right now it's great fun, and I have a feeling I'll be shelling out the $2.99 for the sequel. 

So, yeah, Kindle self-publishing. Feelings? If you have them, let me know. Right now, mine are pretty positive, but I'm still in tip-of-the-iceberg status. All I know right now is that I needed some relaxing fiction for the winter break before I get back to serious, school-type stuff, and I've found some (and for free!). 

Long blog post is long. My other main project of this break has been to read as many online lit-mags as possible to find what I like and try to establish a regular roster of things to read every time a new issue is released. I'm also looking for places I want to submit to. Submission is scary. I'm also working on a new project while trying to get ready for the projects that I have to tackle next semester. Lots going on, and that's the way I like it. When it comes to writing, that is.

Merry Christmas if you celebrate, Merry Just-Another-Sunday if you don't. I hope you get presents regardless. Because presents are awesome.

-Taylor

Friday, December 16, 2011

Light at the End of the Tunnel

My last post was published right around the time that I started focusing on my graduate school applications. It has been a long, long, long process, and not a very positive one. But it's very nearly out of my hands, and I'm pretty damn excited. I mail all of my documents tomorrow and will also submit my final online applications. Then all there is to do is wait.

I wrote a lot this past semester. A lot. I also read a lot, almost all for school. I have never been more stressed in my life, but I think that it was worth it. I'm proud of the work I did, and I'm looking forward to my work next semester, particularly an independent study that I'm doing on the Female Gothic genre. That being said, I'm really excited to be at home for break and have some time to relax. I've been home since Tuesday, and I've read two books already, just for fun, which has been really nice.

My dad surprised me earlier in the semester by having the new Stephen King book, 11/22/63, sent to me at my apartment without me knowing. My dad and I definitely bond over Stephen King books. Pet Sematary was the first book that my dad read on his own for fun. I didn't have time to read the new book until now because I was busy with school work and it's, well, huge, as most Stephen King novels are these days. Quick plot rundown: an English teacher from Maine is shown a portal to the past (1958 to be exact) and is convinced to go back and stop the Kennedy assassination. The book is about his attempt and his consequences.

As I pointed out before, the book is long, and while I enjoyed it, it was the first Stephen King novel I've read in a while that I felt went on for too many pages. Most of the book is devoted to Jake Epping's four-ish years in the past as he waits for the fateful date to arrive. I was personally much more interested in Epping's personal relationships with characters from his "past life" than his surveillance of Lee Harvey Oswald and his associates. I think that has to do with my opinion that Stephen King is at his best when he is exploring everyday human relationships-- even if they're twisted a bit by the supernatural. His deviation into the world of alternate histories and conspiracy theories (or lack thereof) gave the novel a good timeline and element of suspense, but the sections were on the whole less interesting for me. I also feel like the story got a little stunted by King's obvious glee at getting to delve into late 1950's-early 60's society. I totally understand that impulse, but it was pretty transparent and took me out of the story somewhat. His prose, always simple and not really the point of reading a King story, was a little less on point in this book than in other recent efforts like Duma Key, which benefited from its strange and haunting setting. Overall, I liked it, and despite any small criticisms, I enjoyed getting the view into the past as much as King seemed to.

I found Room by Emma Donoghue at the library and figured that I should probably read it already. It was a very quick read, and I'm not sure how I feel about it. It was affecting, that's for sure, and I was very invested in the safety of Jack and his mother. I also think it's an accomplishment on the author's part that she stayed in such a difficult voice for the entire novel without it becoming stilted or annoying. That being said, I'm not sure that I understand all of the accolades and attention the book got. It gripped me pretty hard when I read it, but I have to say that I think it was more the content than the writing, and of course anything that sensational will do so. I was also possibly so invested because of my knowledge of recent events that bear similarities to the narrative (Donoghue has been quoted as using the Fritzl case as partial inspiration for the story). Also, the book has not stuck with me much since I put it down. I have to say, though, that while I was reading it, I didn't want to put it down, and that's definitely a credit to Donoghue.

I checked out a few other books from the library that I want to tackle in the next couple of days. I've started Little Black Book of Stories by A.S. Byatt. I also got The Love of a Good Woman by Alice Munro, The Heart is a Lonely Hunter, which I started this semester but didn't get to finish, and a Victoria Holt novel because I have to get ready for tons of Gothic intrigue next semester.

I'm hoping that now that my applications are over, I can blog regularly again, both about what I'm reading and what I'm writing.

-Taylor

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

S-P-AAAAAAAACCCEEEE!

Recently read "Something Gordon Never Thought Himself Capable Of" by Sal Pane, which is over at jmww. I would go into what I thought of it, but Sal Taught Me Things, so there is much bias. I will just say that I liked it very much and if you are reading this blog post and don't already know Sal (unlikely at this point), you should read his stuff. I love getting to read stories by people that I know because I can see the parts of them that come through in their fiction.

Here's some quotes from some things I've been reading:

"This pelting rain! The kind of rain that hammers at your head like unwanted thoughts."

"You tried to speak and he'd suck out your breath."

-from "So Help Me God" in The Female of the Species by Joyce Carol Oates

"Why are writers obsessed with math when we generally aren't very good at it?"

-from PANK blog

"Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know."

-from A Moveable Feast by Ernest Hemingway

I'm just going to keep reading A Moveable Feast over and over again and ignore all of my other Hemingway-related frustrations. That's my plan.

-Taylor

Monday, June 6, 2011

oh god oh god she said to him I can't handle this anymore

I'm painting my nails with gold glitter nail polish. Not that it matters right now because my hands are still gnarled and ravaged by eczema, which I just figured out is really difficult to spell. I need to go to the doctor, but for some reason I find going to the doctor the most inconvenient thing in the world, so I've just been living like this for months, my skin all fucked up. I need to go the optometrist too. My dad doesn't understand why I have trouble scheduling and keeping doctors appointments because he is the most organized and methodical person I have ever met. He doesn't have the trouble I do executing typical daily tasks.

I like having my desk lamp on, but it makes my room really hot.

I'm writing this to avoid my working-writing. Can you tell? I've been reading good things. I'm reading Affliction by Russell Banks. Slowly. I'm reading this book of Vogue food features too. I love food writing.

At my job, there are Areas of Responsibility that are divided between Sales and Execution. Sales is assisting customers and Execution is maintaining the floor set and things like that. At work, I'm probably better at Execution than Sales. But in the rest of my life, that's not true.

Shit needs done. I'm not a good executor.

-Taylor

Friday, June 3, 2011

"I'm not a fan of the woods. Bad things happen in the woods. I've read fairy tales. I've been in the woods."

I read Roxane Gay's Where I Write at the Rumpus. Fucking fabulous.

I am easing slowly back into my writing routine, adjusting to summer and being away from the constant writing-related stimulation of my life in Pittsburgh. I've been writing letters, too, and that's helped. It loosens me up.

I've been reading so much online that has caught my breath in my throat, given me visions, made me shiver and sweat and squirm in my skin. There is such immense talent floating around, and it makes me so glad.

I keep forgetting how old I am until people remind me that I'm turning 21 this summer. It's such a big thing to them, but for me everything's felt a little fuzzy since 18, like it doesn't really matter any more. I focused on my age a lot when I was a teenager because most of my friends were older than me, so they always got to milestones first. Being twenty doesn't have the same significance to me that being sixteen or seventeen did.

-Taylor

Friday, May 13, 2011

Comfort Reading

I haven't had a lot to blog about since I got home for the summer because I have been doing approximately jack shit about writing. I've been working a lot, and retail just takes all the fight out of me. It crushes my soul.

I've been doing what I call "comfort reading" since I got home, which is comparable to eating comfort food. I haven't been reading anything challenging. I've been reading a lot of YA, chick lit, and celebrity memoirs (Portia de Rossi's book was definitely challenging, but in a different way than I'm used to). I've also been rereading a lot. It's been fun, but I feel like I need to get "back on track," so to speak.

I also need to start writing more. I have this fabulous idea that's been scratching at me, but I just haven't devoted any real time to it. I need to get on it. Though I'm occupied with so many more things in the school year than I am in the summer, I'm usually way more productive. I think it also has something to do with the fact that being in my hometown for the summer makes me excessively BORED. There's nothing to do here, I'm broke, and I don't have that many friends around here anymore (and those that are here aren't home yet). I need to get back to Pittsburgh.

This is rapidly descending into the realm of the needy livejournal entry, so I'm going to stop. I'm going to try harder.

I'm listening to Glee right now. GLEEK FOREVER.

-Taylor

Sunday, May 8, 2011

"But I'm not the other woman in my fantasies."

Two things that bother me about my local Barnes and Noble's YA section:

1. There's an entire subsection for paranormal romance.

2. Megan McCafferty's books are not shelved there. They are in the regular literature section. I have no idea what she thinks about this herself, or if she even cares, but I think they should be shelved in YA. The decision is obviously because of the sexual content/language of the books. They also do have definite crossover appeal, but I think they are YA books at heart, and some of the best YA books I've ever read. It's annoying that the thought process seems to be that we need to keep teenagers from reading about the realistic romantic/sexual experiences of Jessica Darling, but it's totally cool to keep Twilight in YA. Don't worry, I'm not going to go there. I can't even start with that stuff.

-Taylor

Monday, May 2, 2011

Michael Chabon's B+ workshop story is sitting on my desk next to me

I am home, back in the suburbs of Central Pennsylvania, suspended between the two metropolitan hubs of the state. Each time I return home from school, the (culture?) shock gets worse. I was driving out of the library parking lot, and I suddenly noticed how quiet it was. I was so used to the constant noise of the city that it freaked me out.

I've reread some YA books I love since I've been home. I went on a library run today and got, like, six books, so I'm set. I'm trying to read at least two books a week this summer because god knows I'm not doing anything else.

Except writing. Trying to write. That too. Also working my shitty retail job, but that doesn't really count.

I have an idea for a thing. I'm going to try to turn that idea into a real, existing thing.

None of my friends are home from school yet. All of my friends who are out of school (understandably) have real adult things to do and therefore not a lot of free time. Honestly, I really don't have too many friends at home, and the number dwindles every year as we all get older and stay at school or move away or get married and have babies or what have you.

My dad and I ate canned turkey chili for dinner. I really am home.

-Taylor

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

"using it to our own ends, mocking our own superstition"

Reading Cadenza for the Schneidermann Violin Concerto while waiting for the elevator, making an already fragmented narrative even more fragmented.

Telling a barista that I like her tank top, her turning to show me skin beneath the lace back.

Learning how sound works will not make you appreciate music more, unless maybe if you're a musician.

The return of warm weather bringing back how people smell, the odor of boys reminding me of crowded hallways in high school.

Seeing couples everywhere because it's fucking spring, with their hands on each others' bare arms, the way they lean into each other.

Finding similar sentences in my pieces and realizing that I return to certain images again and again (including bare arms for whatever reason).

A line from a physics powerpoint presentation: "Interested in modes of percussion instruments? See, e.g., Rossing Ch. 13." I am not interested. I will never be interested. A diagram of the vocal system that looks like a diagram of a vagina in a medical textbook.

-Taylor

Monday, April 25, 2011

"She'd get real exercised. Start in with the discount calls."

I am on page 235 of 310 of White Noise. I have no idea why it's taking me so long to read this book. I like it, a lot. I'm a fast reader. I guess at least part of the reason is that the copy I have is pretty big, and I like carrying smaller books with me during the day because they fit in my bag easier. But still, I've been reading this book forever.

I think the longest it's ever taken me to read a book is The Grapes of Wrath. I read it in my sophomore year of high school. It took me something like six weeks. And not like with White Noise, where I've been reading all of these other things in the meantime. I read nothing but that book for more than a month. And, like White Noise, it didn't take me a long time because I didn't like it. I don't read books I don't like. My dad will finish a book even if he thinks it's bad, but I tend to toss a book aside even if I get bored for too long. There's just too much to read. Anyway, I loved The Grapes of Wrath. It turned me into a Steinbeck junkie for a while. In contrast, I read East of Eden in three days when my parents and I drove to Vermont to visit Bennington College the summer before my senior year. I've been meaning to reread it for a while now because that shit changed my life, but it's a project. One of those books you have to plan  to read, like Les Miserables or Infinite Jest. (For the record, I read Les Miserables but skipped all the shit about furniture and battle formations, but I have yet to get more than twenty pages in to IJ.)

I don't know why I'm even writing about this. I had a final at 10 AM, and I have a pizza party with my workshop at noon. Until then, I'm on campus with nothing to do. I'm pretty sure that's the whole point of blogging.

I'm going home on Friday, and I'm not excited about having to once again rely on my local library. I've gotten used to Carnegie and its (comparatively) vast web of resources. Those people will basically find me anything I ask for. My library at home is in a really nice building, and it's actually one of the best libraries in my area, but still.

I just looked up Dennis Cooper in my local library's catalog. His name isn't even there. White Noise is in the system, but my library doesn't have a copy. Ditto for Infinite Jest. Bitches have already ordered The Pale King, though, so good for them. And I bet they have about seventeen copies of Freedom. (I just checked. My library has nine copies. There are twenty in the system. Damn, Franzen.)

I shouldn't be saying bad things about my local library. I really do love it. It's the library I grew up with. It's probably a lot better than most suburban libraries in the state. I'm there at least three days a week when I'm home.

I finished all of my writing for the semester. Now that I'm finished with this morning's exam, I only have my physics exam on Friday. I'm taking physics and the sound of music, which is basically the lowest level physics class this school offers, and I'm taking it pass/fail. I'm honestly in danger of not passing. I've never gotten below a B in a class before, and I might fail physics for idiots. Welcome to my life. I hate science so hard.

My second fiction revision was/is a mess. I don't even want to think about it right now. It's difficult because the revision process necessitated by college course schedules does not make sense with my normal writing process. I did what I could. The big issue right now is that, because the story has expanded, it's no longer a complete draft (I have to stay in the same page limit for obvious reasons). So my revision is pretty much three separate scenes from my larger narrative. There's no beginning, no end, and no connection between the scenes. But at least they're better than they were before, I hope.

I'm bringing soda to the workshop pizza party. I only drink diet soda because my dad is diabetic, and I've gotten into the habit (it's all we ever have in the house, it's easier if we all order diet at restaurants in case the drinks get mixed up). I know that I can't bring diet soda to this gathering. But now I'm stuck on what kind of soda to bring. I'm ridiculously un-picky when it comes to soda. Other people have type and brand preferences, I don't really care. So there's the whole Coke/Pepsi issue, and then do I get something else, like a clear soda to balance out the dark ones? These are the fucking things I think about. No one's probably going to drink the goddamn soda anyway.

I wrote my public writing paper on criticisms of the MFA program system. It rapidly turned into me quoting Sal and Katie Coyle in every paragraph. I can't help that they're smarter and more articulate than I am, and they give good interviews. I hope they don't mind/never find out that I basically got them to do my work for me. (For the record: they weren't criticizing the program system. They were responding to common criticisms of it.)

I'm waiting for my parents to deposit a check that got mailed to my home address, and until they do that I'm functionally broke. This is very frustrating because there are many books I want to buy. Also shoes. All of my shoes are falling apart, and it rains constantly in this fucking city. It's unpleasant. I haven't bought books in so long. When I'm at home I usually buy books at Salvation Army for a quarter. That's where I got my copy of The Corrections when I was fourteen and entered the downward spiral of trying to figure out why anyone liked that book in the first place. But I also got a lot of my "classic" books there because, I guess, people either buy them, spend years not reading them, and then finally get rid of them when they clean out their attics; or kids have to read them for summer assignments and then get rid of them as soon as they're done with the report. But anyway, I got my copies of Jane Eyre, The Grapes of Wrath, Madame Bovary, The Picture of Dorian Gray, most of my Shakespeare, and countless others there. I also found my copies of Bridget Jones's Diary, Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason, and The Devil Wears Prada there, which is all the chick-lit I'll ever need. I also use SalVal to build up my Stephen King paperback collection. Basically, Salvation Army is wonderful for buying very cheap books, and I have wandered very far away from the original purpose of this paragraph.

Okay, I've occupied myself long enough. Time to go buy soda and then proceed to the pizza party. Then later this afternoon I get to go to a late lunch/early dinner thing with some professors and the other TAs from the film department. Everybody's giving me free food today. And that's how it should be.

One last thing: my best friend from elementary school got engaged this past weekend. Engaged! What the fuck is up with that?

Oh holy zombie Jesus, I am the worst blogger ever. Even I don't want to read this. Sorry.

-Taylor

Friday, April 22, 2011

"She says this in a voice that I would like to punch."

I got Normally Special yesterday. I had two hours between my fiction workshop and my night class, so I read it. And then I read most of it again. And then I read "The Mill Pond" and "An Unsteady Place" a third time.

Most of xTx's pieces (in the book and online, from what I've read) are very, very short. For whatever reason, probably because I like the situations she creates, I'm drawn more to her "longer" pieces, particularly in Normally Special. When I made my list of the stories that drew me in the most, I came up with "Standoff," "The Mill Pond," "Exactly Raisins," and "An Unsteady Place." Out of the those, only "Exactly Raisins" is one of the really short ones.

In my notes for this book I have the phrase some kind of rollercoaster mindfuck, which is an inadequate but sort of interesting description of my reading experience. There is something unsettling about the stories as a whole, and that definitely works to the book's advantage. I'm glad that I had time to read it in one sitting because I felt pulled from one story to the next.

In Noah Cicero's interview with xTx on HTMLGiant, she says, "I am a slow writer and I like to get every sentence and every word ‘right’ before moving on to the next sentence. I can spend my entire lunch hour on a paragraph. It’s frustrating." I understand feeling frustrated about that kind of process, but I think that it is very apparent in Normally Special that extreme care was taken with every sentence. As I've stated numerous times, these are very short pieces, and every word counts. Nearly every sentence in Normally Special is what I call "live wire writing." Writing that makes you feel a physical, buzzing tension when you read it.


Here are some lines I wrote down while I was reading. I forgot to write down the page numbers, and I don't have the book with me.

From "The Mill Pond":

"We drank Kool-Aid out of jelly jars that were always dirty, but I never said anything."

Okay, I thought, I wrote this down, but I guess it was too long. In my notes I just have the whole paragraph about eating the Suzy Q. This is good, I guess, because now I haven't ruined it for you if you haven't read the story yet. I think it's the best part. All I really want in life at this point is to write a story like "The Mill Pond."

From "Exactly Raisins":

"All I can hear are grunts. They are the ugliest sounds I ever heard."

From "An Unsteady Place":

"Downstairs, I don't tell Frank how brackish seawater trickled from their mouths when I tried to kiss them good night."


I liked this book a lot, I hope I've made that clear. As I said in the last post, I also like xTx's blog, which I think I forgot to link to.


Now for even more about Dennis Cooper:

Out of all the Dennis Cooper I've read so far, I think I'm most disgusted by the spitting scene I just read in Frisk.

Seriously, I had a physical reaction in the middle of the Cathedral common room. I made a face. I think I gagged a little. Dennis Cooper describes a lot of disgusting, fucked up shit in his books, but something about the way he describes this just got to me. Here's the passage:

"He starts coughing and snorting up stuff from the dark recesses of his throat and nose. He emits grayish goo in a long, unbroken, lumpy thead. Then he wipes his lips. I swallow noisily. 'Thanks.'" Frisk p. 69.

I can't even. I feel a little bit sick just reading it over again.

Also from my notes:

What I'm getting out of Dennis Cooper thankfully goes beyond how to describe violent gay sex in explicit detail (though I think I'd have a better shot at it now than before). He does crazy, crazy things with structure and POV. Awesome crazy. The POV in Frisk is some kind of first person omniscient. I've never read anything like it before. There's a first person narrator, but in telling the story he talks about the actions and thoughts of other characters that he couldn't possibly see/know.  Add to that the fact that there's a section in the middle that's an imagined, fictional account written by the protagonist, and things are pretty convulted and interesting. The best part about it, though, is that it makes perfect sense with the character and the concepts being explored in the story. Mind blown.


I'm trying to think if I have anything else to write about. I had my last class of junior year today. I'm going to a pizza party with my fiction workshop on Monday. I'll be back home in a week, and I'll be staying there for the summer unless I get this grant that I applied for. That's about it. I started writing a story about a kid who hits another kid with a baseball bat and cracks his skull, which I shouldn't be doing because I still have a twenty-ish page revision to finish.

"there is a difference between being disenthralled and being disillusioned" -Louis Menand

-Taylor

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

"I want to write like a river."

I like xTx's blog a lot. I'm reading it instead of doing my revisions.

Suck it, last week of classes. I don't even care.


I'm kidding. I do care. I finished my shorter revision last night, but this second one's going to be a bitch. 


It's all good, though, because I get two writing-class pizza parties this semester, and you can't beat that. My instructors are better than your instructors.

So I'm on my third book by Dennis Cooper. More twisted gay sex. I think I'll have to take a break after Frisk, which I started today, and read Little Women or something just to get my innocence back.

-Taylor

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Thanks to Sal, #ShitGoblins is now a hashtag.

How often do you think Dennis Cooper gets emails that are just like, Dude, what the fuck? 


I mean, I'm enjoying the hell out of his books, I'm just saying.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

April 14, 1865: Booth shoots Lincoln.

Things I Read

In the last few days I’ve read Vanishing Point by David Markson and We Are Never As Beautiful As We Are Now by Adam Gallari. Here are things I think about them:

So I liked Vanishing Point a lot, especially as a book that I could carry around with me during the day and read in small increments, which was facilitated by all of the really short, separate paragraphs. It took me a long time to really latch on to the “narrative,” if you can even call it that, running through the book, but the ending sealed it for me. That ending, damn. Freaked me out in a good way. I was surprised that I liked the book as much as I did because I often have trouble with fiction that strays too far from traditional narrative. I’m able to recognize and admire the merit of it if deserving, but when it comes to personal taste, I usually want to be told a story. If I can’t find the story, I tend to get frustrated. But that’s about me, not the writer. But, in any case, I will definitely read more by Markson. Vanishing Point was the only book of his they had at the library when I checked, but I’m sure that I can order the others in from another branch.

We Are Never As Beautiful As We Are Now is a long-ass title. Also, the stories in it are mostly about baseball. I know almost nothing about baseball, which made it a little difficult for me at times to identify with (or, on a few occasions, fully understand) what was going on. Aside from the baseball disconnect, though, I liked the stories a lot. I liked the thread running through the book of young men who realize how precarious their current position in life is. It was interesting to read a book so completely rooted in the masculine perspective, especially because I don’t do that too often. My two favorite stories were “Negative Space” and “Go Piss On Jane” (neither of which have much to do with baseball, which might have affected my decision). Also, Adam Gallari is really young, born in 1984. Whenever I read good books by people near my age, I feel both excitement and pressure. It’s a strange combination.

So that’s what I’ve been reading. Other than that, I’ve just been revising. And revising. And revising. I have portfolios for both autobiography and advanced fiction due in the next two weeks. The fiction one especially is fucking with me. Editing my stories, at least on the large scale, is not my strong point in the process. I get overwhelmed easily. I had my second workshop on Tuesday, and while I was really pleased with the feedback, I feel like there’s so much to do with this story that I just can’t handle it. Also, I think it’s going to be long. Really long. Which further confuses me. I would just like to add that in Sal’s absence my workshop was run by the wonderful Katie Coyle, who is a Pitt grad student and all around nice person. She gave me some insanely helpful feedback (and some much-needed encouragement) on my story. She also let me interview her for my public writing final project, which is another indication of how nice she is.

I’ll hopefully finish White Noise this weekend.

-Taylor

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Something that occurred to me:

I was on the phone with my father the other day, and we were talking about the piece I'm writing for my autobiography class. It's a "fictional autobiography" though I use that term loosely, and it's about Centralia, a town near where my grandparents live. There's a mine fire in Centralia that's been burning since 1962 and caused the nearly complete evacuation of the town starting in the early 80's. So my dad and I talked about Centralia for a while, and then he asked if he could read the piece when it was finished.

This is the first time (that I can remember, anyway) that my dad has asked to read a piece of my writing. As a matter of fact, this may be the first time he's read a piece of my writing since I was in middle school. It's not because of a lack of encouragement or interest or anything. Both of my parents have been incredibly encouraging and supportive of me as a writer. My dad is paying my tuition to get a degree in writing. I've just never really volunteered to share my work. My mom has asked a few times, and the answer is always no, which mostly just has to do with me knowing my mother and her reactions to things. But my dad has never asked me, until now.

I won't lie, it was a little proud moment for me. And I'm glad he asked about a piece that I'm not worried about sharing. The main reason I don't share most of my writing with my parents is because it would just be... awkward. Supermega awkward.

The point of all this, though, is that I'm really glad that my dad cares about what I'm writing and wants to read it. That's a big thing for me.

In other news, I read the beginning of Sarah Rose Etter's Tongue Party, which won Caketrain's 2010 chapbook contest. It's pretty fabulous so far. Her chapbook and the runner-up, Short Dark Oracles by Sara Levine, are available for pre-order now. Must get my finances in order and do some pre-ordering. It's sad that I actually have to check my financial situation before I spend $12. Very sad.

-Taylor

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Miscellany or Stuff from My Notebook

I have nothing to really guide this post. I haven't been doing many exciting things lately. Lydia Davis is going to give a reading on campus tomorrow, but I don't think I can go because I have night class. My daily writing has been mostly devoted to this monster draft of a thing on Centralia for Jeff Oaks's autobiography class. I need to start working on something else outside of classwork instead of just messing around. Of course, I have end-of-semester fiction revisions to be working on, so there's that. I hate revising things for class. I hate revising things in general, but I'm trying to get used to it. It's not that I think my work doesn't need revision. It's usually that I think my work needs SO MUCH revision, and I get a headache just thinking about it. I do not cope well.

So in the absence of anything else to talk about, here's some stuff from my notebook the last few days:


Research topics for autobiography:
-Central Pennsylvania in the late 60's and then the mid 80's
-music
-Staten Island child abductions
-abandoned amusement parks
-child abductions in Central PA at that time?
-mining
-Vietnam, obvs. (Yes I actually wrote obvs in my notebook. I am terrible.)

Friends don't let friends respond to bad reviews. (I'm pretty sure this is from HTMLGiant. A lot of the stuff from my notebook is from HTMLGiant because it's how I pass time at work. I'm at work right now actually. There's not a lot for me to do here.)

What did I do? I made him hurt me. I pushed him, his nice churchboy crisp white shirt gentle hands not afraid to cry mindset. I threw up on the tiny white and gray tiles in my kitchen.

White Teeth:
"and of course Ophelia herself, who was to be found in the kernel of this nuthouse, curled up in a fetal ball on the sofa, making lowing sounds into a bottle of Bailey's."


I'm tired and I feel bad for not doing the dishes and I want somebody to find me interesting and I want to go to bed.

White Noise:
"'All plots tend to move deathward. This is the nature of plots. Political plots, terrorist plots, lovers' plots, narrative plots, plots that are part of children's games. We edge nearer death every time we plot. It is like a contract that we all must sign, the plotters as well as those who are the target of the plot.' Is that true? Why did I say it? What does it mean?"

"It was horrible - horrible. Like a chicken." -from the original Alien script

MAKE YOUR LIFE FEEL MANAGABLE

The Mountain Goats "No Children"
Matt & Kim "Good Ol' Fahsioned Nightmare"

Blog post: Why I need a Kindle

I wish I could have met David Foster Wallace even though I don't love his writing. I don't really know what it is. I guess he just has a nice face.

Blog post: WTF James Patterson, how are you the world's best-selling author? Oh yeah, you don't actually write your books anymore.

"If I'm working with a co-writer, they'll usually write the first draft. And then I'll write subsequent drafts." -James Patterson 

"'This is absolutely incredible, Hays. Dazzling, inspiring,' Lizbeth gushed, her gorgeous eyes shining with excitement. 'We really do run the world, don't we?'" -from Toys by James Patterson.

So that's what goes on in my notebook. I know you're all so captivated. There's some actual writing too, I promise.

I'm thinking of checking out those books by Amanda Hocking because her story is ridiculously interesting. Though I do think that paranormal romance is the worst thing to happen to the YA genre since... ever.

One last note: today the receptionist who works in the office where I'm employed as a student worker asked if I was eating. She then proceeded to say that if I need any help getting food, she would help me out. People officially think I'm so poor that I can't afford food.

Which is only half-true.

-Taylor

Thursday, March 31, 2011

20 young adult books/authors/series that, like, totally changed my life or whatever

WARNING: This post is long. LONG.

So, inspired by the mention of The Phantom Tollbooth somewhere on the internet that I can’t remember, I decided to compile a list of young adult books that I loved as a child. The parameters of the list were that I managed to remember the book (obviously, but this is more because of omission. I’m sure there’s plenty I’m forgetting.), I read it before I started high school, and I feel like it had a significant impact on me as a reader/person. I’ve read every book on this list multiple times, and I would gladly reread every one of them today. The list is just in the order that I managed to remember the book (I used the GoodReads list of best YA books to help me). There’s nothing earth-shattering or even particularly unexpected on this list. I loved a lot of the books that most kids loved.

Before I start the proper list, I need to point out that I can’t decide whether A Tree Grows in Brooklyn qualifies because I can’t remember if I read it for the first time in junior high or high school. But it’s my favorite book of all time, so I figure it’s worth mentioning anyway.

THE LIST

1. The Phantom Tollbooth by Norton Juster, illustrated by Jules Feiffer

This book taught me more about language and its uses than any elementary school English class (apologies to my teachers). It’s probably the cleverest book I’ve ever read, and I don’t think that it even needs to be classified as a young adult book. I still recommend it to people on a regular basis. Have you read The Phantom Tollbooth? You should. There are puns. And a guy named The Mathemagician.

2. Bridge to Teribithia and Jacob Have I Loved by Katherine Paterson

I had both of these books on my list and forgot that they were written by the same person until I looked  them up. Bridge to Teribithia is a rite of passage for many children, or at least it was when I was young. For me and many of the kids I knew, it was the first book we read that dealt with death, particularly the death of a child. It’s the first book that ever made me cry (and cry I did. Violently, confusedly, unaware that a book could do something like that to a person). I read Bridge to Teribithia in fourth or fifth grade and Jacob Have I Loved in sixth or seventh. If you haven’t read Jacob Have I Loved, I recommend you do. It’s another book that I feel transcends the YA genre. It was the first book I read that made me feel like I wasn’t reading a book for children. It’s dark, mature, and complex, and it deals with the kinds of ugly emotions that books for children so often seem to skirt around. Sara Louise is one of those protagonists that I can instantly identify with, and I think it’s that way for a lot of people who read the book.

3. All of Roald Dahl’s books for children

I tried to narrow this down, and I couldn’t. I mean, it’s Roald Dahl, what are you going to do? His books made me think outside of boxes I didn’t even know were limiting me. Here are some of my favorites: Charlie and the Chocolate Factory; Danny, the Champion of the World; George’s Marvellous Medicine; Matilda. I think my favorite scene from any Roald Dahl book is when Danny drugs pheasants with raisins stuffed with powder from sleeping pills in Danny, the Champion of the World. That kid is a smart cookie. Incidentally, I once read a book of Dahl’s short stories for adults by accident. I was probably still a little too young. I vaguely remember being terrified by a story about a guy who gets his finger cut off.

4. A Wrinkle in Time and Troubling a Star by Madeleine L’Engle

A Wrinkle in Time is another one of those books that everyone should just read. I remember seeing the movie version after I read the book and thinking Gregory Smith was cute as Calvin. My favorite book by L’Engle, though, is Troubling a Star, which I’m guessing is one of her lesser-known books because no one seems to know about it when I bring it up. I liked it so much that I read it three or four times in a row. It’s about one of L’Engle’s recurring characters, Vicky Austin, going on a boat trip to Antarctica. I haven’t read it since I was about thirteen, and now I really want to get my hands on a copy. I think it’s a bit funny that Troubling a Star is my favorite of her books because I hated A Ring of Endless Light, which is probably her most famous book about Vicky Austin. I’ve just never been into books about dolphins, and it seems like there’s a lot of them in YA.

5. The Alice Series by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor

I read my first Alice book, Alice in Rapture Sort Of , when I was in sixth grade, and I became absolutely obsessed. Naylor is probably best known for Shiloh, which I read and liked but never much cared about. I think it was about a beagle or something. But the Alice books became a regular part of my reading life because she kept writing them. They’re still coming out now, though she’s almost finished with the series (Alice finishing high school), and I’m still reading them. They’re incredibly relatable, frank, and funny, even if Naylor does sometimes reveal her disconnect from contemporary teenagers. I like that she doesn’t shy away from difficult or controversial issues. Because I’ve been reading them for close to a decade, I have this intense emotional connection to the books and characters that’s going to be difficult to deal with when the series ends. I really want to buy a full set of these so that I can give them to my future daughter or niece or somebody someday.

6. That Summer, Someone Like You, Keeping the Moon, and Dreamland by Sarah Dessen

I found Dreamland randomly while wandering around my junior high library in 8th grade, and I read it and every other Sarah Dessen book I could find in a matter of weeks. Sarah Dessen is one of the writers who first made me consider that I might want to write YA. I’ve read and enjoyed all of her books, and I always get super hyped up about a new one coming out (there’s one this May!). Sarah Dessen has also been a really positive influence on me as a writing student. I follow her blog on livejournal, and it’s a great look into the daily life of a working writer. I think she’s one of the best YA writers currently publishing.

7. Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson

Laurie Halse Anderson is the other writer who first made me seriously consider writing YA. I also follow her blog on livejournal, and I feel much the same way about her as I do about Sarah Dessen. Her books are some of the most emotionally charged and challenging books I’ve ever read, in any genre. Speak was a big influence for me because of the unconventional choices she made concerning structure and language. I have a character in  a work-in-progress named Melinda after the protagonist of Speak. Another quick note about Laurie Halse Anderson: she’s a wonderful advocate for libraries, independent bookstores, and against banning books from school libraries/curricula (her books have banned on numerous occasions in junior highs and high schools).

8. Homecoming, Dicey’s Song, and Izzy Willy-Nilly by Cynthia Voigt

Dicey Tillerman is one of my favorite young adult protagonists. When I first read the books, I was so impressed by her bravery, skillfulness, and judgement. I was sorry for the things she and her siblings had to endure, but I wanted to be more like her. Izzy Willy-Nilly is probably the most introspective YA novel I’ve ever read, and it was a reading experience unlike any I’d had before. One of Voigt’s great talents is communicating difficult and very individual experiences (like the amputation of a limb in Izzy) in a way that is still accessible to young readers.

9. Hatchet, The River, and Brian’s Winter by Gary Paulsen

I can not for the life of me figure out why I was so obsessed with these books when I was in the fifth grade, but I read them over and over again. I even asked my dad for a hatchet (which he thankfully did not give me). I have no idea what I would have done with it, since I was not finding myself in any wilderness survival situations. A kid that I babysat a few summers back had to read this book for school, and I remember being confused and a bit offended when he didn’t like it.

10. Little Women by Louisa May Alcott

I remember feeling like this was the first “grown up book” I ever read. I must have been eight or nine. I remember that it was definitely the longest book I had read up to that point (other than when my mother read A Tale of Two Cities out loud to me, which was a torturous experience for both of us). I got totally caught up in the story. What’s interesting about this book, now that I think about it, is that it features the death of a young character. That means that Bridge to Teribithia was not the first book I read in which a character died. I remember that I wasn’t that sad when Beth died, though. I don’t think I fully understood her illness and death at the time. It all seemed so prolonged and pathetic and unreal. Jo was my favorite (she’s everyone’s favorite, right?), so I’m counting her among my writing influences.

11. Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery

Anne Shirley is such a badass. I wanted to be just like her and probably drove my parents crazy after I read this book.

12. From the Mixed Up Files of Mrs. Basil E. Frankweiler by E.L. Konigsburg

This is a book about a girl and her brother who run away from home to live in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. If that’s not the coolest thing ever, especially when you’re eleven, I don’t know what is. I should point out that it does make it seem very conceivable to run away from home, though, and probably contributed to one or more of my own futile attempts. I was never very serious about it. I would get mad at my mother, pack some things up in bag (including my piggy bank), and go sit on the curb on my street corner waiting for a bus to come. That corner wasn’t a bus stop.

13. The Little House Series by Laura Ingalls Wilder

I had the cutest little set of these books, and I read them all tons of times, though I only vaguely remember them now. I was so fascinated by the fact that Laura was a real person, that the things in the books had really happened. For whatever reason, though, my favorite of them has always been Farmer Boy, which is about Almanzo’s childhood. I should point out that because of these books I forced my mother to buy me a bonnet. Like the hatchet situation, I don’t really understand why I wanted a bonnet so badly. But I had one, and my little sister did too. Also, Little House on the Prarie is an awesome tv show, and Melissa Gilbert’s book is one of the only celebrity memoirs I’ve read and enjoyed.

14. The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle by Avi

You know who else is such a badass? Charlotte Doyle. I thought she was basically the coolest person ever when I read this book. I didn’t understand at the time what the book was doing to discuss gender roles and the abilities of women to transcend others’ expectations of them, but it’s pretty awesome. And tense. I’ve reread this in the past few years, and it still had me on edge.

15. Sideways Stories from Wayside School and Wayside School is Falling Down by Louis Sachar

Like The Phantom Tollbooth, these are some mightily clever books. The way that Sachar plays with language is wonderful. And they’re some of the funniest YA books I’ve ever read. Apparently there’s a third one, Wayside School Gets a Little Stranger, but I don’t remember that one at all.

16. Harriet the Spy by Louise Fitzhugh

This is one of the things that inspired my notebook-keeping. Who didn’t want to keep a notebook after reading about Harriet and hers? At some point in my childhood this was made into a movie with Michelle Trachtenberg, Rosie O’Donnell, and Gregory Smtih. What is it with Gregory Smith and film adaptations of my favorite childhood books? I’m sure I thought he was cute in this movie, too. There was also the thing about tomato sandwiches. I think I ate a few of those after reading this book, and I didn’t even like tomatoes when I was that age.

17. Cut by Patricia McCormick

This is another book that I read in about 7th or 8th grade. I know I read it multiple times that year. There was just something disturbing, fascinating, and reassuring about reading about people around my age who were way more messed up than I was. A lot of my friends read this book around the same time.

18. The Ramona books and Dear Mr. Henshaw by Beverly Cleary

This woman is obviously a legend of children’s literature. Also, she’s 94 and still writing (though she hasn’t published anything since 1999), which is pretty awesome. I loved all the Ramona books when I was a kid, probably because Ramona was a little bit annoying and I identified with that. I also remember reading Dear Mr. Henshaw for some elementary school assignment and being pretty obsessed with it. I probably liked the idea of a kid getting to correspond with an author. I’m fairly certain my teacher made us all write letters to an author after we read the book, but I can’t remember who I wrote to, and I probably never got an answer. The book has a sequel called Strider that I forgot about until I looked it up, but I read that one too.

19. Hard Love by Ellen Wittlinger

I read this book in 8th grade, and I’ve read it multiple times since. It’s probably the first book I read that dealt explicitly with LGBT themes, and I think that Wittlinger handles it wonderfully. What I love most about this book is how complex it is. The relationship between John and Marisol is completely unconventional and complicated. It’s a very emotionally mature book, which I always appreciate in YA.

20. White Oleander by Janet Fitch

This isn’t a YA book, but I decided to include at the end of this list because I read it for the first time in 8th grade, and it’s my other favorite book of all time (along with A Tree Grows in Brooklyn). I have read this book more times than I can count. I feel like a lot of people don’t give it a fair chance because Janet Fitch isn’t that well known and the book was on Oprah’s book club or whatever, but I definitely recommend it. This is the kind of book I want to write.